Filmed Oct 9 in Montreal Canada at the Second World Congress Against the Death Penalty.
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Juan with his lawyer and investigator; on the evening of his release from death row
The Information below was provided by Juan Melendez when he was still on death row and
wrote to the CCADP for assistance in getting his case known to the public and the media...
I'm addressing this summary to you, hoping and praying to the Creator that you be able to assist me in a life or death situation.
My name is Juan Roberto Melendez Colon. But all my friends call me "Puerto Rican Johnny." I was born on the date of 5-24-51 in Brooklyn, N.Y. However, I was raised in Puerto Rico.
I'm entirely innocent of the offense for which I was convicted and sentenced to death. The crime of murder and robbery was committed by others individuals, one named Vernon James, who confessed his involvement in the crime to at least five (5) people. I should noted that I don't know James, I don't know the subjects that were involved with James in the crime and neither know the people who James confessed his involvement in the crime.
To make this a presentable summary, I will divide this odyssey in five (5) portions;
A) The trial
B) B) 1st Rule 3.850 motion
C) 2nd rule 3.850 motions
D) Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and
E) Evidentiary Hearing
A) THE TRIAL :
I was convicted and sentenced to death for the 9-13-'83, murder and robbery of Mr. Delbert L. Baker, alias Mr. Del. The murder occurred at Mr. Del's Beauty School in Auburndale, Florida.
1) The State Case :
The state case against me was extremely weak. My conviction and death sentence rest solely on the testimony of two felons, David Falcon and John Berrien. Mr Falcon testified that I and a friend planned to rob Mr. Del because he was known to have a lot of money and jewelry . The other man cut Mr. Del's throat; and he was begging to be taken to a hospital, I shot him using a pillow with a silencer. This evidence was presented to the jury, in a hear-say fashion. Because, the State knew that Falcon was unreliable and unworthy of belief. They use John to corroborate Falcon's story against me. Before I was indicted for this offense, John Berrien was charged with the 1st degree murder and armed robbery of Mr.Del. John made a negotiation plea with the State and obtain a cash bond of $250.00, his charge was reduced to accessory after the fact; and he will not be sentence until the conclusion of my trial.
John testified that he drove his cousin, George Berrien and me to Mr.Del's beauty school on 9-13-'83.
He testified that he dropped us off in the late afternoon and picked us up two hours later. The next day, he drove George and me to the train station where I gave George jewelry and a gun before he boarded a train for Wilmington, Delaware. The only physical evidence supporting John's story was an Amtrak record indicating that George Berrien had taken a train to Delaware on 9-14-'83, which of course does not connect
Me to this offense. No physical evidence was presented at trial that placed me at the scene of the crime or in any way connected me with the victim death. In fact most physical evidence found at the scene of the crime was either destroyed or at least not preserved by the State, On the basis of this evidence I was convicted of murder and robbery and sentenced to death. John pled nolo contendere to being an accessory after the fact and received two (2) years probation. George incredible as it may seem "was never charged with any offense" even though the State's theory of the case is that George physically participated in the victims death.
(2) The Defense Strategy;
I had always
maintained ands always will maintain my innocence and that another
individual or group of individuals were responsible for the death of
Mr. Del. The strong probability of my innocence was pointed out
by Justice Barkett of the Florida Supreme Court in her specially
concurring opinion on direct appeal. She wrote," a review of the
evidence in the record leaves on with the fear that an execution would
perhaps be terminating the life of an innocent person, Melendez vs,
State, 498 So2d 1262 (Fla.1986)
The defense theory at me trial was that I'm innocent that John Berrien and David Falcon were lying and that another man namely Vernon James had killed Mr.Del. In support of this defense my attorney, Mr. Alcott presented me with alibi witnesses and one witness to whom Mr. James had confessed.
Also my attorney presented one witness, Mr.Terry Barber whom saw James and a friend of James named Harold landrum, alias 'Bobo' at the victims shop near the time of the murder. In addition, there were four(4) witnesses who heard Falcon state that he would kill or get rid of me. Also George Berrien testified…for the 'defense' that he didn't know me, that he never ridden in a car with me, that he went to Delaware to visit his children, but he took a ride to the train station with a white man in a pickup truck, that he had never been arrested or charged with Mr Del's murder, and that his cousin John told him if he changed his statement they were going to give him a murder charge. All together there were more than ten (10) witnesses who contradicted John and Falcon's trial testimony, which was the key stone of the State theory.
(B) 1st Rule 3.850
On 1-16-89 the above motion was filed in the Circuit Court and on 7-17-89, erroneously the mentioned court denied relief 'without' conducting an evidentiary hearing. On 11-12-92, Florida Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court denial of my Motion to Vacate Judgement And Sentence was erroneous as a matter of law and fact. The noted courts summarily denied my claims 'without' conducting any type of hearing, 'without' adequately discussing whether and why I'm not entitled to relief. In this motion, I alleged, interalia that due to trial counsel's ineffectiveness and / or state misconduct, the jury didn't hear available evidence challenging the credibility of David Falcon and John Berrien. John provided several prior statements to the police that were markedly inconsistent with his trial testimony, but which the jury didn't hear. John testified in a deposition less than a week before my trial that his statements to the police were mostly false "except for the incident at the train station." The jury wasn't told about this deposition. The jury was never told that the police coerced John to cooperate with them by telling him, 'in turn for helping you can get off light, the right will probably get you home free and 'we're going to protect you' etc etc…This motion also alleged that trial counsel was similarly deficient in probing and presenting substantial evidence impeaching Falcon. In addition, this motion alleged that the State not only failed to disclose the truth about Falcon, but it affirmatively used his lies about his background and role as a police informant to enhance his credibility. Evidence was readily available proving that Falcon wasn't an undercover agent in PR and a paid informant for the FDLE and police as he testified at trial. In fact, Falcon had been convicted of a P.R. murder and was released from prison after testifying against his codefendants in a N,J multiple murders. The FDLE rather than paying Falcon for information as he testified, they had actually disassociated itself from Falcon. Also Falcon had been in and out of mental hospital diagnosed as undifferentiated schizophrenia and drug addiction (heroin and cocaine.)
(C) 2nd Rule 3.850
In the above motion my defense team has discovered witnesses who positively identified Mr Vernon James as the individual responsible for Mr Del's death. Ms. Sandra Kay James (Vernon's sister) she is one of them and through her my counsel learn of two (2) other witnesses, Ms Deborah J Ciotti a close friend of Mr James and Ms Janice F Dawson the mother of Mr James child.
(1) Ms. Ciotti;
She knew about the drug deal/robbery that was planned for the night of 9-13-83, she saw Mr James and a couple of his buddies go inside Mr Del's place of business on the noted night.
(2) Ms. Sandra, Mr James sister;
She know that her brother set up the robbery and that James was present when Mr. Del was murdered.
(3) Mrs. Dawson
She provided details that indicated that Mr James had some of Mr Del's jewelry that was missing after his murder.
Ms. Ciotti. Ms
Dawson, and Ms Sandra were all very close to Mr James and don't know
me, therefore they had no reason to lie to help me. Their
testimony is consistent with evidence presented at my trial. Mr.
Baber testified that he saw Mr James and his friend Mr Landrum with Mr
Del shortly before the latters death. Mr Mims testified that
James confessed to killing Mr. Del; Detectives testified that Mr
Landrum was questioned that Landrum's sneakers matched the bloody
footprints at the crime scene and that after working hours Mr Del
conducted homosexual parties and had been doing them for a number of
years. In addition, Mr James confessions are corroborated by his
of drugs and money the morning after the crime and his possession of Mr
jewelry which he later gave to Ms. Dawson. Moreover, John Berrien, whom
incarcerated in a N.M prison, but in this motion my defense team was
to located him had recanted his trial testimony.
(4) John Berrien's Predicaments;
The jury was never told that John was threatened by the police and coerced into testifying falsely against me. The police first elicited a self incriminating statement from John by telling him that they had enough evidence to convict him and then threatening him with prosecution if he didn't implicate me in Mr Del's murder. John made numerous and frequently contradictory tape recorded statements that weren't brought to the attention of the jury. In trial, Mr Falcon testified that him and Detective Glimsson from the APD paid a visit to John at the PCJ in Bartow, FL. Mr. John remembered this visit very well it was on 3-17-84, two (2) days after his arrest for the Mr Del's murder. In that visit, Falcon advised John to cooperate with the police, to help himself, that I had already confessed to the murder. Also, on that same date, John made one more of his numerous contradictory statements. On 3-17-84 John implicated his cousin George Berrian in the Mr Del's murder. The discovery of information which was never presented at trial because of state misconduct and / or trial counsels ineffectiveness demonstrates that Mr John Berrien's testimony lacked any credibility or reliability whatsoever. Informations obtained from Mr John Berrien during police interrogations where the result of threats on Mr John Berriens life and the coercions all made by Florida's law enforcement officers.
(D) Petition for
In the above motion, the defense team claimed that I was denied the effective assistance of counsel on direct appeal. My direct appeal was marked by a total lack of advocacy on the part of direct appeal counsel. The trial court prevented my defense from presenting evidence in support of my innocence. In addition, the trial court prevented my defense from cross examining key state witnesses on issues which would have seriously undermined the state theory. However, my appellate counsels initial brief presented only seven (7) pages of arguments raising only four (4) issues.
After Vernon James confessed his involvement in the Mr Dels murder to Roger Mims his cellmate, Agent Roper of the FDLE had questioned James about this offense. When the defense asked agent Roper whether Mr James acknowledge being present at the murder the state objected and the objections was sustained. Had my defense been permitted to pursue this questioning, Mr. Roper would have testified that James did admit being present at the homicide. The defense also attempted to present evidence attacking the credibility of Falcon's account. The defense contend that Falcon was testifying to curry favour with the government to avoid prosecution from a shooting which occurred at the home of a family named Reagan. When defense counsel attempted to ask Agent Roper about Falcon's involvement in the Reagan shooting the trial court would not allow the question. Additionally, the defense contended that the bullets taken from the Reagan's car matched the bullets from the body of the victim. The trial court refused to allow the defense to present to the jury testimony from a state firearms expert from the FDLE which would have shown that the bullet from the Reagan's car were similar. Moreover, Falcon didn't disclose any inside information known only to the police and the perpetrators and/or police investigators. But trial court prevented my defense from presenting evidence demonstrating that Falcon's knowledge of the offense was readily available to the general public. Although no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony connected me to the offense, apellate counsel failed to raise any issue on direct appeal regarding the sufficiency of evidence to convict me of murder.
The failure of appellate counsel to raise the issue of my innocence and to present the issue that no credible evidence was exhibited to prove my guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the Florida Supreme Court on Direct Appeal, has prevented the noted court from correcting the miscarriage of justice that occurred at my trial.
In the above hearing the State only agreed to discuss two (2) issues, a claim of Newly Discovered Evidence, and a claim of a Brady Rule Violation. To support the noted claims my defense team presented ten (10) witnesses. In opposition to the motion the state presented only two (2) witnesses and both of them were law enforcement officers. Four (4) defense witnesses, Ms Deborah Ciotti, Ms Janice Dawson, Ms Sandra Kay James and Mr Dwight Wells, they all testified at the above hearing that Mr. Vernon James had made incriminating statements to them about the murder. Also in the above hearing Mr John Berriens testified that he was threatened and coerced by law enforcement officers to make statements inculpating me in the Mr Dels murder. The officers had a written outline of the statements they wanted John to make and coached him through his statement with frequent references to the outline
of the statements they wanted John to make and coached him through his statements with frequent references to the outline. They had a tape recorder, but they turn it on only after John had mastered portion of their statements. While the police were coaching and threatening him, they turned the tape recorder off. In support of Mr. John Berrien's allegations my defense team call "Dr Richard J Offshe".
* Two Key
As I pointed out in the introduction of this summary that Vernon James confessed his involvement in this crime to at least five (5) people, without counting Agent Roper from the F.D.L.E. whom was prevented by the State from testifying that James had admitted being present at the homicide, Mr.Dwight Wells was the fifth(5th) witness whom Mr.James confessed his involvement in the Mr. Delbert L. Baker's aliad Mr.Del's homicide case.
* Mr.Dwight Wells is a criminal defense attorney, whom at the time of my trial was an assistant public defender (P.D.) appointed by the court to represent John Berrien for the 1st degree murder and robbery of Mr.Del. According to Mr.Wells John consistently maintained his innocence. However, Mr.Wells advised his client to accept the State's plea offer because he was initially charged with 1st degree murder and pleading to accessory after the fact was in John's best interest. Mr. Wells was also familiar with Mr.Vernon James, because he had represented him several times as a P.D. Sometime before my trial begins, Mr.James requested that Mr.Wells visit him at the county jail and during those meetings Mr.James confessed to Mr.Del's murder; "He told me that he was involved in the murder of Mr.del. He described to me in some detail what had gone on. Mr.James shared with me , however reluctantly, that he was Homosexual and that this had started out as an attempt to go back to Mr.Del's place and have some drugs and a party. That Mr.Del had come on to him in an overly aggressive way, and that's what led to the homicide.
Mr.James confessions are not contradicted by the physical evidence, specially the above version told by Mr.Wells. His version of Mr.Del's murder is consistent with the other four (4) of james confessions, consistent with the trial testimony concerning the manner of death and consistent with the crime scene evidence.
* Dr. Richard J. Ofshe, a social psychologist specializing in false memories, police interrogations techniques and coerced confessions, testified for the defense at the noted hearing. He testified that the police used threats and control to obtain statements from Mr.John Berrien and that the police intentionally sought an incriminating statement in order to gain control over John so that he would be forced to cooperate in their prosecution of me. Dr.Ofshe testified that he had found evidence in the record to support John's testimony in the noted hearing that the police did threatened him during their interrogations. In addition, he noted that even without John's repudiations of his own testimony, the unreliability of his testimony was obvious from his statement alone "the series of interrogations themselves show so much variability that one would have to conclude, as a whole, that the totality of this is simply unreliable without independent corroboration" The fact that John's statement about the threats and coercion were corroborated in the transcripts of his interviews led Dr.Ofshe to believe Mr. John Berrien rather than the police officers who deny that threats of corcion were employed. Dr. Ofshe also testified that during one interview, John expressed concern that he might get himself in trouble and was reassured that he could avoid this by helping the police.
Dr. Ofshe was asked his opinion on the interrogation procedures used during the interviews with Mr.John Berrien; "Well, my opinion is that it not only could have produced a false coerced statement, I think the entirety of the record, including John's latest testimony, together with his testimony, together with his testimony prior, together with the facts that are contained in the record, supports the conclusion that this is not only a coerced statement, but it also is a statement that is contrary to the facts, could be classified as grossly unreliable and to put it in simple English, False.
Moreover, Dr.Ofshe also testified on cross-examination that Mr.John Berrien's testimony at my evidentiary hearing is far more likely to be reliable than his trial testimony.
(1)Mr. Vernon James was the original suspect in this case and his suspicion aroused on Mr.Terry Barber's account, one day after the Del's murder. Mr.James was a "police informant" for the A.P.D. whom had worked very closely with Det. John Knapp the leading police investigator or Mr.Del's death, which leaves to believe that Det.Knapp have been protecting James in this murder case. Also Mr. James and the victim had a prostitution, drug connection
and a homosexual lover relationship. Since Mr. James was the original suspect in this case my trial counsel interviewed him in regard to the Del's murder and he agreed to testify for the defense, disclosing what he know about the murder. However during my trial James admitted committing the homicide to Mr.Roger Mims, who reported the confession to the State. Mr.Mims testified about James confession, but forced James to take the 5th-Amendment and trial counsel dod not inform the jury that James had taken the 5th-Amendment. Moreover, approximately two (2) years after my conviction Mr. Vernon James was found dead in a ditch shot several times in the head and chest.
(2) Mr. Harold Landrum, alisa Bobo also was the original suspect in this case and like James his suspicion aroused on Mr. Terry Barber's account. Mr.Landrum also was a "police informant" and like James, he worked closely with Det. John Knapp. Moreover like James
but in a different event, Mr.Harold Dandrum was a victim of murder shot to death.
(3) Det. John Knapp from the A.P.D. was the chief investigator officer in this case from day one. However, six (6) months after the murder investigation and because of police negligence in the Mr.Del's death probe, Knapp was stripped of his detective rank to a police patrol officer and replaced by Det.Gary Glisson. Also, during my trial and for exculpatory evidence, defense counsel requested a blood sample believed to belong to Mr.Del's killer that was retrieved at the crime scene by Det. Knapp, but because of his negligence the noted evidence was not preserved. In addition approximately two (2) years after my conviction, Mr. Knapp was disgracefully fired from the APD for stealing a gun from the evidence room. Also, like Mr. James and Mr. Landrum, Mr. John Knapp is now deceased.
(4) Det. Gary Glisson from the APD took over the Mr. Del's murder investigation. However, approximately two (2) years after my conviction, Det. Glisson also was disgracefully fired from the APD for lying to a superior officer, not following orders, and in connection with Mr. John Knapp's evidence room theft. Moreover, Det. Glisson lied in my evidentiary hearing, when he claimed that on 03-17-84 Mr. John Berrien call him from the PCJ in Bartow, FL.
(5) On 03-06-84, six (6) months after Mr. Del's murder Mr David Luna Falcon the state witness call Agent Tom Roper of the FDLE and on the above date, I became a suspect in the Mr Del's homicide case. Also, approximately two (2) years after my conviction, Mr David Luna Falcon die of a full blown A.I.D.S complication.
(6) Agent Tom Roper from the FDLE got involved in the Mr Del's homicide investigation after Falcons call. But, on 03-17-84 he disassociated himself from the probe because he did not approves the way Det. Glisson and Sgt. Knapp of the APD was using Falcon in the Mr Del's homicide investigation.
(7) The Circuit Court and the Florida Supreme Court were clearly wrong that the jury had heard about Mr. John Berrien's numerous and frequently contradictory statements. The noted courts were similarly wrong to believe that I had an evidentiary hearing on my 1st Rule 3.850 motion. Finally, the courts again wrongly denied my Motion To Vacate Judgement And Sentence.
(8) As for myself, I feel like a Gypsy that had been picked up by State's Law Authorities, then later condemned me to death for the murder of a man that I never seen before and never have been in his place of business.
It has now been well documented that hundreds of innocent people have been executed or imprisoned in this country for crimes they did not commit. It is now equally well known that in recent years, more than 85 individuals have fortunately been rescued from such injustices, especially 20 of them in the State of Florida. Such cases invariably disclose government misconduct, the use of perjured testimony by questionable informants, ineffectiveness of counsel or counsel rendered ineffective by government tactics. Unfortunately such cases are rare and only brought to light by the capture of the true perpetrator, the recantation of a perjuring witness, the tireless efforts of a dedicated competent attorney or the involvement of news media programming. If ever a case existed that resembled any of the above it is my case. If ever a case bears close scrutiny it is my case. If ever a case bears the benchmark stench of questionable testimony, questionable goverment tactics and questionable effectiveness of counsel, it is the instant case, my case.
Since the courts aren't listening to my crys for justice, I come to you and hope that you are able to assist me by spreading this miscarriage of justice to any news media programs, such as 60 Minutes, 20/20, Dateline, or etc, etc.
This case needs to be publisized, so people in this nation can see how an innocent man can be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit.
I be waiting for your reply. God bless you.
Juan Roberto Melendez
Please note that although Mr. Melendez is a native Spanish speaker, his English is excellent. Most of his presentations and media interviews are in English but he also presents and conducts media interviews in Spanish.
To arrange for Mr.
Melendez to speak at your venue, please contact Ms. Judi Caruso at
or email@example.com, director Juan Melendez Voices United for Justice
Juan Roberto Melendez